Durban - Armed criminals are abducting women from the city’s streets, bundling them into cars and forcing them to reveal their bank card PIN codes.
Police have urged women to be vigilant, even when walking in groups, as they have recorded several incidents in the greater Durban area.
Most recently, three women were squashed into a car by four armed men on the Berea, and taken on a terrifying drive to the Point area before they were pushed out of the vehicle.
One was left with only 33 cents in her account after the criminals wiped her account of R4 000.
SAPS spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Thulani Zwane confirmed police had received several reports of criminals accosting people for their bank card PIN codes.
“We have received such complaints in the greater Durban area. The people who are cornered are in some cases pushed into a car and threatened until they reveal their bank card PIN codes,” he said.
Police were working with banks to arrest criminals using this modus operandi.
“People who are caught in this situation must please try to remain calm and if they feel their life is in danger to not resist. They must also be vigilant when walking, whether alone or in a group.”
Inanda resident Happiness Sithole, 40, was one of three women grabbed on Wednesday by three men on Durban’s Berea at gunpoint and knifepoint and had her life savings cleaned out.
Sithole said she was walking from Lena Arendse (Manning) Road to Berea Centre when the attack happened.
She and two women, whom she did not know, were walking together, when a car pulled up alongside them.
“We were talking to each other and didn’t notice anything."
“There were four men in the car and three jumped out. They squashed us into the car and started going through our bags, looking for wallets and cellphones,” she said.
“I was very lucky - I had put my phone in a pocket in the jacket I was wearing, so they didn’t find that.”
The men drove them to Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road, where they demanded PINs from the women.
“I tried to give them the wrong one, a telephone number, but the man pointed the gun at me and said that isn’t five digits and I must give him the right one. I thought ‘life’s too short’ and gave it to him.”
The men took the women’s cards and identity documents and “pushed us out the car”.
“Our hands were shaking, but I called my husband and we went to the bank at the Workshop shopping centre.”
But they were still too late: the teller told Sithole all her money - R4000 - had gone and there was only 33c left in her account.
“I have a (daily withdrawal) limit of R1 000 a day, but the bank said (the men) drew out money and swiped my card,” she explained.
The other women fled as soon as they were freed, said Sithole.
One of her employers, well-known Durban arts journalist Billy Suter, said he was angry.
“These people earn a pittance, but the criminals still go after them for what little they have,” he said, adding that Sithole had managed to scrape those savings together over the past few months.
“An employee at the bank told her she needs to get her ID sorted first and the bank might reimburse her, within four months.”
Another woman, Octavia Cebisi, described how she was so nearly a victim of the same crime outside her place of work in Morningside’s Innes Road.
“I was early for work and was waiting for the shop to open. This grey car pulled up and out jumped three guys and a girl."
“They surrounded me and told me to get into the car with them, but I refused. I started screaming and started to fight with them. Fortunately, the nearby Vida E cafe was open.
“The guys heard me and came to the rescue. That’s when the criminals ran away. They thought they were going to get caught.”
CCTV footage later showed the grey Passat had driven past the bench on which Cebisi was sitting some four minutes earlier and had come around the block before the attack took place.
It also clearly showed that Cebisi was the target of the attack, not her bag which was a fair distance away from her on the bench.
It also shows one of the men falling out of the car as it sped off after the attack had been thwarted. He fled the scene on foot.
The attackers stole her phone, which was on top of her bag, but not the bag itself.
“The frightening thing was they wanted to take me,” said Cebisi, a mother of two schoolgirls and the family’s breadwinner.
“I was so scared and was shaking."
“Two of them had knives, the third was carrying something in plastic. One of them stabbed me on my fingers and I was injured on my shin.”
Cebisi got through her ordeal with the help of her employers and colleagues, but has heard nothing from the police.
“My phone was still ringing at 10am that morning, but they didn’t try to track it. We told them about the CCTV footage, but no one’s come to view it.”
She hasn’t heard whether any arrests have been made.
“But I want to tell everyone about this incident to make everyone aware that this is happening,” she said.
Ross Linstrom, spokesperson for Standard Bank, said he could not comment on the specific incidents, but added that the bank’s policy was to investigate any complaint brought forward.
“First, we urge people to keep their PIN codes safe and secret."
“If the code has been compromised in any way, inform your bank and stop your cards from being used to prevent any unauthorised transactions, or access to funds."
“As part of our bank’s policy we will launch an investigation and try to get their funds back, but this is not guaranteed,” said Linstrom.
He said every case had its own set of circumstances and depending on the outcome of the investigation, in which they also worked with police, a decision would be made whether to return the money.
“If the customer is unhappy with the decision they can approach the Banking Ombudsman who will ajudicate the case independently. Banks will comply with the decision.”
SA Banking Risk Information Centre chief Kalyani Pillay said incidents in which people were threatened or tricked into handing over bank cards and PIN codes to criminals were not new and were reported from time to time.
“Setting daily limits on cash withdrawals and transactions in general, will assist greatly to mitigate losses. We encourage all card holders to keep their daily limits as low as possible.”